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A commuter rail resolution

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Saugus Board of Selectmen backs proposal to fund electrification of Newbury-Rockport Commuter Rail line

  Selectmen voted 5-0 at their Tuesday (April 19) night meeting to support a resolution requesting the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to fund electrification of the Newburyport-Rockport Commuter Rail in its Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for the Fiscal Years 2023-2027.

  “Electric trains are up to 25 times more reliable than our current diesel fleet, which translates to dependable, reliable service and lower maintenance costs,” the resolution noted.

  “Whereas: Electrification of the Newburyport-Rockport line would allow the state of Massachusetts to meet emissions reduction goals as outlined in the Next Generation Roadmap legislation signed into law in March 2021,” the resolution continued.

  “And Whereas: The Town of Saugus has long missed out on rapid transit and is in dire need of affordable, reliable public transportation to alleviate traffic and congestion; and Whereas: The way to solve the Commuter Rail’s existential crisis is to embrace the vision of a 21st century regional rail system that will make it more relevant for residents and riders to utilize while making their trips.”

  The resolution passed by Saugus selectmen requests the MBTA Board of Directors to include funding for the following projects in its Fiscal Year 2023–2027 CIP:

  • Electrification of the of the Newburyport-Rockport Line
  • The design and construction of high train platforms for step-free access onto commuter rail trains
  • The construction of infill stations in Everett, Revere, and Salem
  • Bus rapid transit from downtown Peabody to Salem Depot to integrate commuter rail ridership

  With passage of the resolution, Saugus joins the City of Lynn, which already passed an electrification resolution. Similar resolutions are pending before the Revere City Council and Chelsea City Council.

  Selectmen considered the resolution after receiving correspondence from state Rep. Jessica A. Giannino (D-Revere), whose district includes Precincts 3 and 10 in Saugus. Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said that Rep. Giannino reached out to her for support, and that state Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) also supports the resolution.

  “If electrified, the price drops drastically to take the commuter rail which would increase the number of people who ride, decreasing our traffic and congestion,” Panetta wrote in an email to The Saugus Advocate on Wednesday.

  “As you know, Saugus is a cut through from the North Shore to Boston. The current line runs from Gloucester to Boston. The federal government (Rep. Clark and Sen. Markey) just got funding to add a stop in Revere at Wonderland (existing stop),” Panetta said.

  “The electrification in addition to the new stop (2 separate projects) will be transformative for Revere but will impact traffic in Saugus by taking cars off the road. This is also a big environmental impact because it would convert from fossil fuels to electric,” she said.

Giannino seeks “a priority investment” in EJC

  Rep. Giannino provided selectmen with a copy of a letter she wrote last month to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board. That letter informed the control board that she was writing to testify in favor of “a priority investment in the Environmental Justice Corridor (EJC) of our regional rail system.”

  “This specifically includes the electrification of this element of the regional rail system and the introduction of Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) vehicles between Boston and Beverly, which would allow for transit frequency and transit fares on this segment of the Boston to Newburyport Line,” Giannino said.

  “This project would prove to be both economically and environmentally beneficial for the residents of the Sixteenth Suffolk District as well as the surrounding districts. Firstly, upgrading the now obsolete train equipment to a cleaner and more reliable structure would significantly minimize equipment breakdowns, toxic emissions, and noise pollution; all of which are factors in the quality of life for the residents and front-line workers from the Greater Boston Area,” she said.

  “In addition, as climate change continues, it is common for flooding to occur on the tracks, under train bridges, and on land along the EJC. As changes to the Newburyport/Rockport Line begin to take place, resilient infrastructure planning along the line will help to alleviate the consequences of changing climate,” she said. “As for the economic factors, current commuter rail fares are unaffordable for the residents of working-class communities like Revere, Lynn, Chelsea and Everett; and even with no capacity problems, that effectively eliminates the commuter rail as a practical transportation option. Equally important, if it were affordable, a regional rail system with transit frequency and transit fares would link both Boston and the North Shore to residential and job opportunities in each of the communities on the line. That in turn would support economic development, workforce development and affordable housing strategies in Revere certainly, but also in Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and beyond, where such opportunities are increasingly viable especially with a supportive transportation network.”

  In her letter, Giannino also called connections to Wonderland and Encore Boston Harbor “invaluable aspects of the EJC proposal that will reinforce and multiply access to opportunity.”

  “The casino has already proven to be a major driver of economic development in the region. This will be enhanced by increasing access to the communities of the EJC,” she said.

 She continued, “Creating a transfer station for the Blue Line and the Newburyport/Rockport Line will open the door to numerous new economic and commuting opportunities for residents of the EJC. Lastly, in the case of Revere in particular, my community has none of the benefits of a regional rail since we do not have a regional rail station. More frequent rail service will also add capacity on a rail line that is frequently unavailable to inner belt communities at peak-periods since trains often arrive in Lynn already fully occupied. To a large extent, this investment would also serve the transportation purposes that would have been provided by the proposed extension of the Blue Line to Lynn at far less cost and for a far greater distance.

  “In conclusion, the investment in electrification of the Boston to Newburyport rail line will both reduce the burdens and increase the benefits of the rail system for the urban communities through which it passes. That is the essence of the environmental justice that has long been denied to Revere and other urban communities, which are among the most economically challenged communities in the Boston Metropolitan Area. These are cities and towns that are still affordable and are remarkably diverse.”

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